The Teacher Salary Project. . .

Over the past several years, one of the central issues that has driven my work has been helping to redefine how teachers are paid.  Watching colleagues walk away from our profession dissatisfied with compensation models built on single salary schedules and growing tired of constantly searching for extra dollars to pad my income, I can’t think of a more urgent issue for educators to wrestle with.

That’s why I was so excited to be invited to serve as an adviser to a new effort known as The Teacher Salary Project designed to raise awareness about the challenges that lagging salaries pose for our schools.  Led by Academy Award–winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, co-founder of 826 National Nínive Calegari, and writer Dave Eggers, The Teacher Salary Project plans to use digital tools to create a shared documentary bringing transparency to the work of classroom teachers.

As momentum builds behind The Teacher Salary Project, our hope is to
bring interested stakeholders together around a shared
table to discuss practical ways to pay teachers differently.

Most exciting to me is that I believe we’ve reached a tipping point
where changes to the ways that we reward teachers are truly possible.
Parents and policymakers alike both recognize the importance of quality
educators and seem willing to pay more for accomplishment.  What’s
more, today’s young professional has no expectation of a long-term career that provides job security instead of competitive opportunities to earn more money.

Both of these trends place pressure on the antiquated compensation
system that many established educational decision-makers continue to
advocate for.  Once we can identify legitimate methods of measuring
accomplishment, we’re bound to see movement towards progressive and
rewarding compensation for educators.

Having worked with the Teacher Leaders Network and the Center for Teaching Quality to develop an alternative model for teacher compensation a few years back, I’ll be advocating for:

  1. Additional compensation for teachers willing to accept positions in hard to staff schools or subjects.
  2. Additional compensation for teachers who are able to document the impact that their instruction has on student achievement—and who are willing to amplify the results of their learning beyond their classrooms.
  3. Additional compensation for teachers who pursue professional growth opportunities that are targeted towards district goals or identified community interests.

While I believe that there is a central need to raise salaries for all educators—consider that the average starting salaries for educators currently stands at $31,753 while the average starting salary for college graduates in non-education majors stands at $42,229—I also believe that blanket increases for all educators regardless of performance cheapens our profession.

And with the power of a national organization built with the social tools of the web behind us, The Teacher Salary Project just might be the lever needed to push conversations about compensation in the right direction.

10 thoughts on “The Teacher Salary Project. . .

  1. The Teacher Salary Project

    Dear friends of The Teacher Salary Project:
    We are beginning to edit our film, and need your help. Starting February 1st, you can help The Teacher Salary Project win $50,000! We have been selected to be part of round one of the Pepsi Refresh Project, which is giving away $1,300,000 a month. You, all of our supporters, decide who gets funded by voting online for the ideas they like best.
    Here’s how you can help:
    1. Go to
    2. Click the “Vote for this idea” button and take a moment to register.
    3. Watch our new humorous two-minute film called, “Before 9 a.m.”
    4. Vote EVERY DAY in the month of February.
    5. Tell all of your friends.
    Your teachers (and we) will thank you for your votes!
    In case our project is new to you, or you want to help us get more votes by passing this email along, here’s what we’re about:
    The purpose of The Teacher Salary Project is simple: to honor our most effective teachers and to demonstrate that they are critical to the viability of our democracy. With our ongoing digital archive of teaching stories and feature documentary film in the making we will change how our society values the people who have the greatest impact on student success – our nation’s teachers.
    Thank you for your votes and your continued support. Here’s that Pepsi link
    The Teacher Salary Project Team

  2. Seth

    Sven 22’s comments are interesting, if not entirely accurate. I do not have the figures on his school district, but I wonder what the cost of living is in his district. How easily could a teacher afford a small house where he lives?
    What I take issue with is the number of hours that he claims a teacher works. 1080 hours amounts to 135 days of work. The national average length of an instructional school year (meaning days where teachers are teaching students) is 180 days. Assuming that you pay teachers only for student contact days, that comes out to be about $41 per hour, using the formula suggested by Sven. However, this also does not include hours spent outside of the contract day. This week, which I would say is relatively typical for me, I worked 9 hours per day plus 4 hours on the weekend, and I could not do my job without the extra time. Assuming that this is what the average week is for teachers in your district, my hourly rate (minus 3.2% for social security) is now $33.50 per hour. This doesn’t include the week or so of non-student contact days per year that I am contracted for. I don’t deny that there is significant unpaid time off for teachers, but I think that a more realistic look at the hours we put in is necessary. In terms of actual compensation, I am curious how teaching quality could be measured for people in specialized, non-tested fields such as elementary music and PE. Certainly, there are high and low quality programs, but my worry would be that because these fields don’t have a perceived “market value,” the teachers in this area would be underpaid for their work.

  3. Sven22

    Teacher’s aren’t underpaid in Illinois! The average elementary school teacher in our middle-income suburban schools make $61,000 a year. Since they work 1080 hours per year, that equates to over $54 per hour after you subtract the added 3.2% that they pay for benefits compared to Social Security. Add in the sweet pensions and medical benefits and then your looking at hourly compensation including benefits that beat that of the average family physician!!! It’s sad that many teacher’s don’t realize their job is really only part-time and hence their compensation should reflect that. The nobleness of the teaching profession has suffered greatly do to their incessant whining.

  4. Adam

    I am happy to hear that you are on this committee because I am part of the 50% that leave before five years because I had to work four jobs to support my family. As you approach this task we also need to think about what we can do to encourage great teachers to stay as close to the classroom as possible. Right now if you want to make more money you become a school administrator and that is the only path to larger pay increases. We need to reward those teachers who are successful, defined by many performance factors, and keep them close to students and/or coaching and mentoring teachers. There have been some pilots around the country with this concept, but the states didn’t continue funding the programs (Florida is one of them). Keep up the good fight.

  5. K. Borden

    An exercise that is useful in contemplating the monetary value of a job is to break down the value to the market of each of the services/tasks provided. If you were to list what a teacher should be expected to do and assign a monetary value to each task that reflects the going market rate for similar tasks, what would you find?
    Next, ask what the values are if the tasks are performed beyond expectations, to expectation, or poorly.
    Compare what you find to the existing tangible and intangible benefits and costs of the profession. Some professions for example through tradtion require the participant to dress in a manner that is generally more costly than other professions. Some professions require the participant to self fund professional development education without compensation for time spent doing so or reimbursement of costs of the coursework. The list of tangible and intangible benefits and costs could be long and may include items not all agree are “important”. The point is to evaluate the overall value of the profession to the participant and to the market.
    Good luck with your efforts.

  6. Bob Heiny

    Kudos, Devlin, for offering your private sector background to students and teachers. Public ed needs more such teachers. And, your suggestion helps to overcome the self-serving aspect of teacher proposed pay schedules.

  7. Devlin

    Special attention should be paid to the pay scale plight of Alternate Route teachers. Many of us bring years (even decades) of meaningful work experience into our classrooms, yet we are required to start at the same “fresh out of college” level on the salary guide as recent graduates entering their first full time jobs.
    Case in point: During my interview with my current district superintendent, I was told that the 3 years I’d just spent teaching in a parochial school simply “didn’t count” because it wasn’t public school experience. Never mind the 20 years I’d worked in a variety of retail, manufacturing, and corporate office settings learning more about technology, project management, and supervision than the district could possibly afford to teach me. These skills are all immediately transferable to (and desirable in) the classroom setting, yet in the minds of those who’ve not worked outside the public education sector, it appears these skills “don’t count” either. It was made clear to me that when it comes to teacher pay, the ONLY question is this: First year in public education? Level one.
    I see this as a major hurdle in attracting (and retaining) great Alternate Route teachers.

  8. @carlyalbee

    If teachers’ salaries were competative with the rest of the job-market salaries, wouldn’t the quality of teachers take care of itself? If there are 25 people applying for a math position (instead of four), couldn’t you choose a highly qualified candidate…the rest would have to work at a Department Store.
    Notice that lawyers, real-estate agents, doctors, graphic designers, engineers…. are not having to offer a “_________fellows” to lure in new workers.
    A competative salary is the FIRST place to start to make teaching more attractive. THEN work on performance pay.
    That’s just my opinion on salary. It doesn’t touch my opinion on teacher working conditions. I think working conditions might trump salary. That is my “wife as second salary” opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. But there are plenty of men (who are the sole-incomers in their house-hould) who also love my school…and wouldn’t leave for a higher salary at a different school.

  9. Matt Johnston

    I admire this effort to change the overall salary structure. I have often contended that the salary structure is one way in which people look at teachers and think “non-professional,” as it not to be equated with legally recognized professionals.
    While I think your three general goals are worthy and appropriate, I wonder whether throwing things out and starting from scratch might not be a better approach. I will admit that a “brand new, never been tried approach” is unlikely to result from your group’s efforts, to be honest nothing in your proposed goals is all that radical. In essence I don’t think any of these ideas is new nor really that far from adoption.
    I think the time is here to be absolutely radical in our approach to teacher compensation. What truly fresh ideas are out there? What about individual contracts (a pain to administer to be sure, but what are the benefits). Teacher A contracts with School Z for a three year contract worth $140,000 over three years. Teacher A says that he will take X number of professional development credits (agreed to by teh school), will teach subject K,L, and M with a maximum class size of 30 students. TEacher will achieve certain passage rates on state wide exams, will increase learning by x% over the course of the contract. The contract could include bonuses and incentives, just like any other labor contract.
    The idea being is let us not be wedded to the collective contract idea district wide. Let’s be truly radical and truly different. I would even accept a school by school, or grade by grade contract.
    Bill, you have proven to think outside the box on technology issues, which I believe in the best interests of students even if they don’t make it to mainstream. I encourage you to go into this new group with both this set of ideas and a truly radical agenda. Really think outside the pay box.

  10. Nate Barton

    I have one question/concern:Where will the documentation for impact come from? If it is standardized testing, then I take issue. I have no problem being accountable for what I do in my classroom space. However, if I am to be represented by one series of tests on one given day that may cover a huge range of material, then I am not for it. A test that ignores the different learning methods for different students. A test that negates creativity. I have no issue with accountability, but teachers should have some say in that measure, and not a survey to assess various multiple choice questions.

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